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Whither Arnaz Battle?

In all the excitement of free agency and the draft, it seems to me that Arnaz Battle is getting overlooked as far as the contributions he could make to this team in 2007.  I've thought about this off and on all offseason but finally decided it was worth discussion after seeing an article over at discussing the topic.  It's password protected so I was unable to read it; however the headline spoke volumes: "What becomes of Arnaz Battle."

Ask anyone about the current wide receiver situation and they'll probably gush about the variety of weapons at Alex Smith's disposal.  Darrell Jackson gives us a potential #1 threat for the first time in several years, Ashley Lelie could be a deep threat we've been lacking, Brandon Williams has apparently wowed people at last week's minicamp and Jason Hill could be a sleeper #1 possibility in the not too distant future.  Not too mention the potential greatness of Vernon Davis.

All that is meant to draw us to the fact that Arnaz Battle is being overlooked in all of these scenarios.  Statistically, Battle was solid in 2006 but certainly not spectacular.  He finished the season with 59 receptions for 686 yards and 3 TDs.  Let's not forget that this is a guy who played quarterback for much of his life and is still learning the ins and outs of being a true NFL receiver.  I feel that there are still enough question marks in the receiver corp for Battle to have a chance to earn a starting spot.  Jackson has had injury issues, Ashley Lelie has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career, Jason Hill is a rookie who will take some time to learn the NFL game and Brandon Williams didn't catch a single pass last year.  I definitely think that our receiver corp will be very, very solid this year and I think Battle could be a big part of that.

I was checking out Football Outsiders Wide Receiver rankings and I was intrigued by their ranking of Arnaz Battle.  They use two statistics to measure wide receivers: Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement (DPAR) and Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA).  I'm not the guy to perfectly explain the stats, but basically, DPAR represents, "the total number of points scored due to plays where this WR caught the ball, compared to a replacement-level WR in the same game situations."  DVOA represents, "value, per play, over an average WR in the same game situations.  The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance."  I'll let you look at those stats in a little more detail, in the meantime, last season, of the 82 receivers who had 50+ passes thrown their way, Arnaz Battle finished 38th with a DPAR of 12.4.  In comparison, Darrell Jackson was 24th with a DPAR of 17.7.  To put these numbers in a little bit more perspective, the highest DPAR was Reggie Wayne at 46.0 and the bottom was Chris Chambers at -19.8.  One thing to keep in mind is that a wide receiver's performance is quite often connected to the quarterback's performance.  So, clearly Battle's improvement will depend in no small part on Alex Smith's improvement.

Again, considering Battle is still learning how to be a wide receiver, I think he could turn into a legit #2 receiver in this league.  It doesn't seem like he has enough of the physical tools to be a game-breaking #1 receiver, but I don't think we need that from him.  Battle nearly doubled his reception and yardage totals in improving from 2005 to 2006.  While I don't expect him to double them again, he has the potential to turn into a better version of this guy in my honest opinion.  He's still got plenty of work to do, but I think his contributions should not be underestimated.  His improvement and willingness to do the dirty work makes me think his continued improvement is one of several things that have to happen if we are to challenge for the division title.